The Perfect First Sentence

Tomorrow (Oct. 24) would have been my friend Carol’s birthday. We’re both at the age where we don’t like to be reminded and so a simple card or email (preferably something hilarious) would suffice. If the weather allowed, a hike would be ideal. We generally met at Inspiration Point, a walking trail along the coastal ridge. Looking east, you can see the Briones Reservoir and beyond, Mt. Diablo. Looking west you can see the entire Bay Area and on really clear days, even the Golden Gate Bridge.

Looking east from Inspiration Point

Last year we couldn’t meet because of the air quality. And also because she’d just gone on hospice. I’d known Carol for over thirty years. Aside from our walks, we also shared a love for writing. This mutual love led us to sign up for all kinds of crazy events focused on helping you formulate “the perfect first sentence,” along with the perfect blurb, the perfect bio, the perfect elevator pitch, etc., etc. In addition she joined many writer’s critique groups and attended many writer’s retreats. Carol did a lot better at those events than I did. She was always the loudest and friendliest person in any room. I stutter when I get nervous which is my perpetual state of being.

Anyway I spent those last few months of her life helping her compile a collection of her stories and publish them on Amazon. After her death I found this story on my old laptop. It should have gone in her book. It’s perfect. And so, in honor of Carol Teltschick, here is The Perfect First Sentence.


They whispered it to her as she rounded the corner of Rose and Thornton at thirty-five miles an hour, careening downhill out of control, as usual. It was the perfect first sentence. Absolutely perfect – every word, the nuance, the flow. Shaking badly she pulled off to the side of the road to try to trap it.

Damn! She snarled. She had nothing in the pockets of her spandex outfit with which to capture the wicked little beast. No pencil, no pen, no lipstick. And so she tore a twig from a nearby aspen tree and wrote the line in the mud by the side of the road. She would come back for it later; after the biopsy.

All these months (and money) I’ve wasted attending seminars and work shops, she thought as she peddled towards home. And there it was, all this time, on the corner of Rose and Thornton. I’ll be damned. All the blurbing and pitching sessions, the lectures from the agents and established writers all saying the same thing: you have to write the perfect first sentence otherwise your book will not sell. Like a maniac, spending hours in the saddle, whipping the poor first sentence like a tired old mule until it keeled over and died on the page.

They neglected to tell her that you cannot write the perfect first sentence – you must glide through it on your way to someplace else.

Last night I dreamt of Manderly… The first sentence can’t be too strained but must flow into the story like a stream.

Whenever it is a cold November in my soul…The first sentence must set the tone for the rest of your book.

I round the corner of Rose and Thornton and I am flying.

“I’d like to take your hand and throw it across the room. That’s what I’d like to do,” She screamed at the radiologist, after he explained he’d have to reinsert the needle at least five more times. She was laying face-down on a table with her boobs dangling through two holes like udders. The pain, indescribable. Remember, the words lying in the mud waiting for you to return. See them in your mind, she thought and then the needle broke through her skin again and she screamed.

Afterwards it was children she craved. Minds uncluttered by sympathy or guilt. She would be their auntie; take them when their parents had to work on long hikes or to the seashore. Bake cookies, read stories or just listen.

She forgot the perfect first line in the mud.

A Tale of Motor Vehicle Fatalities

Today is my birthday and the plan was to be in Ireland. I’m not sure where exactly although the county of Connemara was high on the list.  If not for the pandemic, I’d be on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the one my ancestors faced hundreds of years ago.  Tomorrow we face that grey abyss, that swallower of ships … battered and seasick to finally land where the mighty river narrows, Quebec.

I was born on a Friday afternoon in a small town in the middle of Massachusetts. If it wasn’t for the recklessness of  motor vehicle drivers I probably would have been born in Springfield which is closer to my grandparent’s house.  To explain, we go back to the year 1913.  In that year people drove “motor vehicles” on roads meant for horse and buggies with little or no instruction and zero regulation.

 

This led to an alarming number of accidents.

I can’t imagine why, can you?   In the small town of Palmer, which is on the main route from Boston to Springfield, there was no hospital. The nearest was in Springfield, a distance of thirty miles.  Thus most of the accidents were ultimately fatal.  The newspapers highlighted the need for a hospital and a local philanthropist by the name of Mrs. Emeline Wing stepped forward to donate her home to the cause and that is where I was born on this day many years ago.   My grandmother was the head nurse and I was her first grandchild. Shortly after I was born the hospital moved to a more modern building on the outskirts of town.  The house is no more.  Now there’s a bank. 

My parents were of the opinion that children only needed food, clothing and schooling.  They didn’t need big, fancy birthday parties.  However, for my sixteenth birthday they did take me to Trader Dick’s Kon Tiki Bar (across the street from the Sparks Nugget) and I had a virgin Mai Tai with a slice of pineapple and a miniature umbrella. I can’t remember what I ordered but it was probably a lot more exotic than pot roast (my mother’s speciality).

 I’ve had a few “unforgettable for all the wrong reasons” birthdays. One year we attempted to drive from Aspen to Reno in one day which would have been possible if the weather had cooperated.  By the time we got to Wendover Nevada we could go no further.  We had to stop.  Wendover is where your car breaks down after crossing the Bonneville Salt Flats and  Wendover is where the Mormons go to gamble, drink and hang out at strip clubs, particularly on Memorial Day weekend.  We had difficulty finding a room.  We couldn’t get a seat in any of the casino restaurants.  Dinner was buck fifty tacos from a stand and drug store gin and tonic. We sat in our hotel room and watched tumbleweeds blow into the hotel pool as sand storms went about the business of  destroying windshields. 

Wendover Nevada looking east toward the Salt Flats.

On the television we could only get three channels: Fox news, Spanish soap operas, and a marathon of Undercover Boss, a reality show that attempts to prove bosses really care about their employees.  The morning couldn’t come fast enough.

Today is supposed to be the hottest day of the week and so perhaps we’ll just stay home.  Water the green beans and the garlic and read a good book.  Ever have one of those birthdays you’d just assume forget?